Otakon 2015: MAPPA Q and A with Masao Maruyama and Yasuaki Iwase

MAPPA Producers answer fan questions on Ushio & Tora, In This Corner of the World, and more.

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Panels were packed with attendees this year at Otakon, and the Q&A with MAPPA’s founder Masao Maruyama and producer Yasuaki Iwase was thankfully no exception. In fact, the line of people waiting to get in stretched out of sight down the long Baltimore Convention Center hallway and wound around a corner. Despite being incredibly busy at MAPPA, Otakon’s resident awesome uncle (Maruyama) took time off from his many current projects to talk about them and his other happenings with his overseas admirers. Those lucky enough to fit in the room got a first look at the trailer for In This Corner of the World, some secret info on the new Garo, and answers to whatever questions in which there was time to ask. After the break: a transcription of everything from Maruyama’s introduction to the very last question of the panel. Enjoy, and make sure to come out to see him in person next year in Baltimore! It's always a fantastic time.

Maruyama: Today, I brought something special with me. It’s only been shown in Japan in the last month.  We just worked on the trailer for In This Corner of the World, which we actually [showed preproduction materials for] at Otakon last year. The movie is still in production, so we have a trailer. And, personally, it’s something really fantastic. The director is Mai Mai Miracle’s Sunao Katabuchi. He’s also directed other projects, such as Black Lagoon.

During the trailer, not a peep is heard from the awestruck audience until the enthusiastic applause afterwards.

This movie is about 1945 in Japan at the end of the war … right before the end of the war. It’s about a girl’s life. She gets affected by the A-bomb, but even after losing her arm, she still wants to pursue drawing. So it’s about the strength of the girl.

The war is such a devastating experience, but [the movie is] not about how sad the war is. It’s about the strength of the woman, how she tries to live a happy life during the war. So it’s about her trying to take care of her family, trying to come up with unique ways to come up with food when they don’t have food. Currently, at Studio MAPPA, we’re working on this film, and we’re probably going to finish it around next summer. So it will take another year for us to complete this film.

From last year from Otakon to today, I worked on such series as Terror in Resonance, Rage of Bahamut, Punchline, and Garo. Currently we’re working on the second season of some of those series. For example, one of those is the second series of Garo. So there’ll be additional series to that. There are other ones I’m working on too, but I still can’t make announcements about them yet.

For Garo, the first animated series we took, the staff actually came with me to Otakon this year: Romi Park and also Director Hayashi and Producer Kubo, who worked on the Garo series, are also with me at this convention. We’ll do a panel later, so if you guys could come by, that’d be great.

So it’s not officially announced, but since I’m in front of you guys, I want to share a secret with you: the second series of Garo is going to start in October this year. To share the story with you: this time Garo’s gonna take place in Heian era in Japan. So it’s going to be a jidaigeki-style Garo. There’s a historical figure called Abe no Seimei, in Japan, and that’s going to be the main character for this series, and it’s actually going to be a female. So that’s what we’ve been crunching down on at MAPPA right now, because it’s about to air soon, in October, but all the staff are saying, “Maruyama, we’re so busy that you’re not allowed to go to America.” (crowd laughs) My team, my staff, are actually saying that, so I felt guilty coming alone. So I just dragged someone else with me. (Maruyama motions to Iwase, and crowd laughs) In Japan, he always keeps an eye on me. So there’s two surveillance people on both of my sides right now (EDITOR'S NOTE — Maruyama's translator, Yoshihiro Watanabe, works for MAPPA). (crowd laughs)

So that’s the now and the future of MAPPA, and we were about to go on to Q&A, but there’s one more thing. We’re actually making a theatrical film version of the first season of Garo. So that’s probably going to air next summer. That’s the current lineup of MAPPA.

Here the translator accidently said "Madhouse" and quickly corrected himself by saying "MAPPA," which led to raucous laughter and the following response from Maruyama.

I’ve graduated from Madhouse. (laughter and applause)

From Madhouse, there are two studios that merged out of it, called MAPPA, which is my company, and there’s another company called Chizu, which translates to the English word “map.” (crowd laughs) So do you know what “mappa” is? Who knows what “mappa” is? Raise your hand. So it’s my studio, but the name, MAPPA, comes from a word. In Japan, there’s a word called "mappadaka." Anyone know what that means? I took the first part of "mappadaka" and named it MAPPA. "Mappadaka" actually means “fully naked.”

Maruyama starts to strip off his unbuttoned over-shirt (to wild applause and laughter).

So my intention of naming that was starting from scratch again. When I started MAPPA a few years ago, I wanted to start from scratch again, without having anything.

And also I’m working on another series. This is actually a collaboration with one of the producers who left Madhouse that I’ve been working with for decades. And this title is Ushio and Tora, which is currently simulcasting. This is very Madhouse style. This is actually based on a manga that’s 20 years old, drawn by Kazuhiro Fujita, and we came up with the idea to do it, after two decades, because we wanted to do something interesting, and this was never done before. So we wanted to work with it, and it’s actually a collaboration between MAPPA and a studio called VOLN.

Maruyama shows the trailer for Ushio to Tora.

It could be the projector, but the color is off on the screen. So please be aware of that. Sorry about that. But if you watch the streaming version, you should see the actual colors. The proper colors. Especially for In This Corner of the World, you couldn’t see, but it’s designed with a very delicate use of colors. So please look forward to it.

Watanabe (translator): Let’s go to Q&A. So if you guys have any questions regarding Maruyama or Iwase about Studio MAPPA, these two have been working together for over 40 years. Iwase is a publisher. He worked on Barefoot Gen as an editor and then he went to studio MAPPA to work on animation as a producer.

Audience: What was it like to appear in Shirobako as one of the characters?

Maruyama: Please don’t get confused. That character is “Marukawa” not Maruyama. (Crowd laughs.) Director Mizushima is a good friend of mine, Shirobako’s director, and before he worked on that series, he said “Well I’m going to work on animation that’s going to feature the animation industry, and I’m going to put you in it.” And I said, “Well, do as you please.” And that was my mistake. (crowd laughs) One thing that’s wrong about that anime is that I actually cook much better than that.

Audience: What was the biggest difficulty in moving on to a new studio? …creating a new studio?

Maruyama: I actually didn’t build the studio. I’m currently 74, and when I left Madhouse, I was 70. Everyone around me told me “You’re way past your retirement age. So maybe you could just retire.” And I said, “No, I just wanna keep on making stuff.” So we had no choice but to make another studio that was able to make more stuff for him. (crowd laughs) So when we were trying to come up with the name of it, I said MAPPA, and we’re all like, “Well, when we pick up the phone, we’re going to say we’re MAPPA? So we’re saying, ‘We’re naked?’” We all said we didn’t want MAPPA, but I said, “No, I like MAPPA.” (more laughter) So I made sure to tell my staff that at the studio, just because we’re named MAPPA doesn’t mean we take our clothes off in the studio. Sometimes, some of the new applicants wonder, before they come to our studio, that we’re some company of naturalists.

Audience: During production-heavy times, when you have a lot of projects under your belt, it can get very tiring. I was wondering, besides those big meals [referencing Shirobako], are there any other kinds of traditions that help boost morale for the studio?

Maruyama: Bringing up morale is actually the main reason, the surface reason, the public reason I put the food out, but it’s more that I like to cook and eat food with people. So that’s more the reason I cook for people. In Japan, there’s a saying called, “eating from the same pot.” And the saying means that if you’re eating from the same pot, you’re comrades or you’re family. So that’s why at my studio, I try to serve food. I’ve been cooking since the Showa era, so basically since Madhouse, but back in that era, there was no fire safety law. So in the studio, no one said, “Don’t use fire.” But now there’s a strict fire safety law, so that if you don’t have an actual kitchen, you’re not allowed to cook in the office. So that’s actually quite stressful for me. I still cook around it, but we don't have tons of money like Ghibli or maybe Studio Pixar or Dreamworks, who can build a kitchen with that money. We’re still just starting a company, so we just find ways around it. So if you come to Japan, you can come over and eat some of our food.

Audience: I’m a big fan of Rage of Bahamut, and I noticed that it expanded a lot from the phone game. It sort of had its own story and a very unique visual style. I was wondering what inspired you to take it in such an interesting direction.

Maruyama: Generally when you’re adapting a game into anime, it’s difficult, because each user has their own game experience compared to something else, like manga or novels. But in the case of Rage of Bahamut, it was really easy, because the game developer actually said, “Please do it the way you please. As long as you make it interesting, we’re fine with it.” So they were really easy to work with.

Ani-Gamers (Evan): First, I just want to say thank you for coming to Otakon again. Everyone really appreciates it. When you came to Otakon last year, you were still seeking funding for In This Corner of the World, and there was recently a crowdfunding campaign for the film. So could you discuss where it’s at now in terms of funding?

Maruyama: In the case of general crowdfunding, it’s really hard to earn the full budget for an animation production, because for something of the quality of In This Corner of the World, the budget is in the millions. So to achieve this just by crowd funding is really difficult. But what crowd funding for In This Corner of the World showed was that there are people actually interested, really impassioned people. So we presented the draft of the project, and people showed interest, so that developed into that trailer. So each frame of that trailer is built by people who funded that project.

In This Corner of the World is not some flashy anime. It doesn’t have panty shots. It’s very straightforward. It’s about the story. So it’s really difficult to get financing because of that, but because of the crowdfunding, we were able to make it a big success. And the crowdfunding amount was a record breaker for crowdfunding for Japanese film in general. That said, I still work on series like Punchline … which is about panties. (Crowd laughs.) But that didn’t need crowdfunding. It had actual funding. This kind of thing is really harder to do, but thanks to crowdfunding, we actually have it going.

Evan: The crowdfunding justified it, basically.

Maruyama: Yes. That’s exactly it. Though … I’m not actually sure, but Iwase is saying yes, so that makes it true. I just make stuff, I don’t think about money. So regarding the budget or schedule, he always helps me do it sooner, finish it sooner, or don’t waste so much money. But without a person like him, you can’t continue a company.

AniGamers (David): Last year I asked you a question about Teekyu 4, and you said you were unsure, with the production with Garo and other related series, if that would be possible, but now it’s 2015 and we’re on Teekyu 5, and we had Nasuno before, but this is a different studio, so I’m going to ask: what’s the story with Teekyu and the new studio?

Maruyama: Actually the new studio that worked on Season 4 of Teekyu is the studio founded by the director of the Teekyu series. So I’m actually fine with him continuing at his studio, because it’s his work. My idea is that everyone in the industry are comrades. So I don’t have to work on everything. But I really want to challenge stuff, so when they’re starting out, I want to work on it. But once it’s on the road, then I don’t have to be involved. I mean, if the project isn’t doing well, then I might say, “Give that back to me. I’ll make it work again.” But right now, it looks like it’s successful, so I’m not going to say anything; I’m just going to let the director handle it on his own.

Audience (George Horvath): You answered about why Ushio and Tora was made, but I’m curious, if Ushio and Tora is successful, would MAPPA go on to adapt other older manga that never got TV series?

Maruyama: Ushio and Tora was actually made into an animation series a while ago, but it was only a three-part OVA. It was abridged, because the manga itself is a 32-volume series. So it didn’t even scratch the entire storyline. So I really wanted to put it in the proper way into a series. But for other things, I really want to work on the "nekketsu" genre, that’s the older things. It’s more thicker art style, more X style things. It depends on whether I can obtain the license to adapt into animation. For example, I want to work on Shaman King, I want to work on Rurouni Kenshin again, adapt it into new style, but it depends on whether the publisher or the actual artist says yes. There are series I’d never want to work on: Astro Boy and Tomorrow’s Joe and Aim for the Ace. It’s because I worked on all of those, and it’s something so precious to me that I want to keep it as it is.

Audience: Is there anybody in Japan that you might now know about, like it might be a smaller director or smaller animator, that you really think has some great potential?

Maruyama: Yes, there is. In Japan, there’s a foundation of possibility for independent series. I mean there’s so many series that’s being made right now, there’s a chance for many people. So seeing those kind of emerging people, there’s so many people I would love to work with. One of the characteristics to Japanese animation is that there are so many. That means there are good things but there are more bad things. But among the shitty ones, you go through the pile and there’s actually really interesting things.

Audience: What was both of your favorite anime to work on?

Maruyama: My answer is always the same for that, actually. Each anime series I have worked on is like my own child. And if you ask a parent, “Which child of yours do you like the most,” a parent wouldn’t answer that. To me, my works are children, so I can’t answer which one. They’re all good kids. They’re all excellent kids.

Iwase: I actually don’t have too many children. But my first child was The Adventures of Marco Polo. And one of the memorable ones was Hanada Shonen-Shi. And another project was Barefoot Gen, because I actually used to work for the publisher that published Barefoot Gen (the original manga). And when they were adapting into anime, we came up with the idea of changing the looks of the main character. To be honest, this is no secret I’m sharing with you, but rather than the creative side of the project it’s more about the finance side, but the project didn’t cost too much.

Audience: When I was watching the series Punchline that just finished airing, later in the series there’s the addition of, in the finale, there’s a mech action? And it was 2-D action, like hand-drawn stuff, that’s kind of rare these days. I just wanna ask, do you have any interest in doing any mecha shows in the future?

Maruyama: I like to work on many different kinds of things. But one thing I actually like work less on is mecha series. One of the reasons is because studios like Sunrise are much better off doing it. So that’s one of the reasons I don’t do it. So when Punchline was first pitched to me, one of my ideas was that we don’t have to draw so much clothing, so it will be easier to draw, but it turns out there are more complicated things, like mecha, so it’s not the way I thought it would be.

Audience: I think you formed Madhouse with everyone working at Mushi Pro: Kawajiri, Rintaro, Dezaki. I was curious to know: what was it like working with them at Mushi Pro and working with them in the early days of Madhouse?

Maruyama: Mushi Pro was about working for Osamu Tezuka. And Rintaro, Kawajiri, Sugi, including myself, were all part of this team. So even right now, that era is the source of the root of my career.

Audience: What was it like working under Tezuka?

Maruyama: When I worked for Tezuka, I was still in my 20’s, and Tezuka is a very demanding man. When he says one thing one day, the next day he says completely different things. My thought back then was, “I’m gonna kill this guy!” Now that I’m older, I think all the people at MAPPA think the same way now about me.

Audience: Ushio to Tora has a very good mix of ‘90s nostalgia and a modern feel to it. I was wondering if it was difficult to figure out that balance and if you plan to carry it on to other anime that you may work on.

Maruyama: Young animators these days are trained to do animation in the current style. For them, it’s really hard to work on something like Ushio to Tora, because their career is not in the ‘90s. So there’s a lot of learning to do when they’re working on Ushio to Tora. I would love to work on more ‘90s stuff with ‘90s anime essence.

Audience: How do you not become confused with all your studio names? Am I just an uneducated weeaboo, or are you some god that just knows?

Maruyama: I might be another weeaboo, because I can get names wrong. Sometimes even myself say that I’m Maruyama of Madhouse.

Audience: I would like to thank you for not sexualizing women. It’s just so common now to see every single studio sexualize women, use them just for props … you know, a pair of boobs. That’s it, really. Thank you!

Maruyama: I’m glad that you understand.

Audience: Mr. Iwase might not like this question, because it’s expensive, but over the years you have talked about possibly being able to do Satoshi Kon’s last project. With the success of the Kickstarter that you had with In This Corner of the World, would that be a possibility that you could still visit?

Maruyama: The budget is a huge hurdle for that series. But even beyond that is it’s only possibly if you bring Kon Satoshi back from the afterlife.

Audience: But you've talked in the past about the possibility of doing it.

Maruyama: I’m still in the mindset to find the talent that could replace Satoshi Kon. Unfortunately, my conclusion as of right now is that there isn’t someone that could match up to his talent. So I’m still in the constant search for it. But right now, I don’t see anyone.

Audience: How long does it usually take to make an anime, and which one took the longest to make?

Maruyama: I think the longest was Rintaro’s Metropolis. I think that took five years. There are also other series, like Satoshi Kon’s The Dreaming Machine that’s already been past five years but is still incomplete, so … it’s in production (laughs) in theory.

Audience: Mr. Iwase and Mr. Maruyama, it seems that you’ve worked together for many years. Could you talk about the first project you guys worked on together and if you have any funny stories from your years together?

Maruyama: Well it’s been 40 years I’ve worked with him. I don’t remember.

Iwase: Maruyama’s been working in the animation industry for 46 or 47 years since Mushi Pro, and I’ve been working in the animation industry just twenty years now. I used to work for a publisher, and my idea about going into animation studio was that I was eventually going to return to publishing. But Maruyama sort of trapped me. I ended up here.

Audience: There’s a pretty cool director who worked on a bunch of MAPPA stuff, and I some Macross stuff as well, Yuzuru Tachikawa. You don’t happen to know how he came to work for you guys, do you?

Maruyama: Tachikawa used to work for Madhouse productions. He started out as a production assistant and wanted to become a director. And about the time Maruyama leftMmadhouse, he actually became one of the assistant directors. At that time, he left Madhouse and came back to Madhouse as a director. So it’s a long relationship ever since Madhouse.

Audience: You don’t happen to know the name of any of the key animators who worked on the action sequences in Ushio and Tora, do you?

Maruyama: There’s two groups of teams who work on Ushio to Tora. One is the Studio Live crew. Its director is Nishimura. And he worked on series like Trigun. So he’s one of the directors on Ushio to Tora. And there’s another half who used to work on Hunter x Hunter, because the producer for Ushio to Tora used to work for Hunter x Hunter; he was a producer for Hunter x Hunter series at Madhouse. So the animation crew that worked on Hunter x Hunter is now working on Ushio to Tora.

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Akira Yearbook: Worth the Hype

Akira deserves its designation as an anime classic.

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You’d think a monster of a film like Akira would be seen and revered by everyone, especially anime fans, WRONG. I once believed such statements to be true but nothing can be taken for granted in anime fandom. This was made clear to me when venturing to a local anime society. I’d been going to conventions for years and I was long past my university days so it felt a strange for me being an anime society first-timer. During my time there I thought I’d get a feel for what people had seen and what they hadn’t, that way I could find out who’d be on the same wavelength as me. After a few people laid down some dubious choices for favorite anime (who I am I judge?), I noticed no one had mentioned Cowboy Bebop, which for me, at my age, is a staple in the anime diet. To my horror no one had seen it; hell, only a few had even heard of it. With that said, to bring me back to my point: never assume that everyone has seen something no matter how big a fan of the medium they are.

Since the beginning of time we have recommended and suggested things to others, through word of mouth or other methods. And of course, things can be overhyped. Our expectations can be set too high or perhaps not high enough, both of which can have interesting effects on our viewing experience. It’s safe to say that when things are overhyped, they can easily fail to reach our expectations, which hinders our enjoyment as we constantly compare them to what others have said. There’s one big exception to this unwritten rule and that’s the 1988 masterpiece, Akira.

For most, myself included, we’d already been exposed to Akira well before having a chance to see it. But Akira didn't fall victim to the aforementioned trap of overhype. I vividly remember my first Akira viewing experience, from the Manga Video VHS. I was blown away. This was probably due to the fact I couldn’t quite fathom what I’d just spent two hours watching. But I loved it. Then again, I was young and impressionable and expected to enjoy it. I was still a little overwhelmed with what I’d just watched and a few days later I watched it again, and then again and again. With each time I gained a little more from it. One watch I’d feel I understood the plot a little more and the next would just wipe that feeling away.  

To this day I hold that people like to "think" they completely understand the film, but I don’t believe they do. Those final few scenes still leave me speechless. I’m not going to drone on with analysis of them, as it’s been done plenty of times before and by people who can probably word it way better than me. That’s not to say their theories are right, though. That’s the beauty of Akira: everybody gets something different out of it.

I know I’m going back and forth with this but I want to achieve for you reading this the emotion I felt when I first watched the film. Thus I now roll from the ending right back to the opening scene. A first impression can achieve so much. The rest of the film can be garbage but you’ll remember a great opening. I think Akira holds the belt for one of the greatest openings. It’s a perfect demonstration how sound and visuals can complement each other. That seems like common sense, but to see it done well is incredibly rewarding. I’ve been lucky enough to see the remastered Akira on the big screen and boy it looked great. Seeing that opening sequence on a large screen really hits home just how much of a spectacle it all is.

If there’s a film that should be re-watched once or twice a year, it’s this one. You think it was perfect when you first watched it? Watch it again to reassure yourself that you aren’t just allowing nostalgia to shape your memories. Never seen it? Put Akira on your list. If you are lucky enough to have the chance to see it on the big screen, please do. It’s breathtaking. Akira pulls no punches, and has set a standard that few films can hope to match. So go away now, and enjoy what creative geniuses are capable of.

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Snapshot: The Case of Alice and Totoro

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I've got a relatively short and simple Snapshot this month, and unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the scene in question since the film I'm talking about was just recently released and isn't available streaming.

The Case of Hana and Alice is an animated film from live-action director Shunji Iwai that serves as a prequel to his teen drama Hana and Alice. It's an interesting case (heh), because, despite Iwai's choice of 3-D models and rotoscoped animation, it's very much a live-action film in terms of shot composition, pacing, and acting. The question, then, is, "Why make an animated film at all?" I might argue that there isn't much of a compelling reason, but there is at least one small scene that benefits from the animated medium.

Alice is a free-spirited middle-schooler who just moved out to a new town in the countryside. As she's sitting in bed contemplating her new, slightly woodsier environment, she imagines meeting a monster in the forest. "Maybe I'll even meet Totoro," she exclaims. In a live-action movie, this would be nothing but a cute little pop culture callback, but animation provides an extra layer of comedy. As Alice mentions the famous character, her face briefly mimics Totoro's iconic grin. This illustrates an important benefit of animation.

Because animation allows the abstraction of human features into more "cartoony" versions, it's possible to deform a character design in order to show the inner thoughts of a character. This can be used for very serious purposes, as Satoshi Kon often did in his surreal, sometimes disturbing films, but it can also make for a quick one-off gag in an otherwise fairly realistic film like The Case of Hana and Alice.

Snapshots is a monthly column in which one of our writers reflects upon a particular moment from an anime, manga, or video game. New entries are posted on or around the 15th of each month. To read previous entries, click here.

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Drunken Otaku: Talk to the Face (Campione!)

The value of misdirection

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For three and half years, I’ve been having fun pointing out great drinkers and great moments in drinking as well as picking apart depictions thereof in print and animation, but only once did I ever allude to a not-so-great moment. That is this month’s moment, because I’m sick of suppressing it, because its faults need to be explored to right the reputation of the effects of fermented grapes, and because the scene’s execution (at least) has some merit. So without further ado, I present to you a (not so) great moment in drinking from the very first episode of (insert sigh here) Campione!.

First off, I’ll fully acknowledge the photorealistic, Drops of God-esque strength with which this scene begins. To fully understand the competency behind the juxtaposition, however, requires, of course, some context. Erica Blandelli, a knight of the black copper cross (no, you don’t need to know), discovers an inexperienced (with magic) young man — Godou Kusanagi — in possession of a very powerful stone. He’s naught but a naïve courier at the time, but when he espies a rogue god in the shape of a giant flaming boar that’s wrecking the city, Erica knows he’s got that something special worth clinging to. (Saving her from possibly falling to her death at the last minute doesn’t hurt either.)

It’s no wonder then, after an adrenalin-rousing bit of battle and one indebting instance, Erica decides to be Kusanagi’s escort to his destination: a rendezvous with a scantily clad enchantress. No-one should have been able to predict that said witch would be lazing around in lingerie, but Godou’s reaction is as transparent as the aforementioned unmentionables. Add to this the fact that the witch gives the powerful stone back to Godou despite Erica’s protests, and the stage is set for a great(ly exaggerated) moment in drinking.

Smote by both the older woman’s authority and allure before the boy, Erica Blandelli (seriously, I never even noticed that flavorless family name until now) returns to her mansion with Kusanagi and drowns her frustrations in bottle after bottle of vino as evidenced by the empties in the first shot after the break and Erica’s ever-beckoning glass. To both aspects, I will yield the scene’s competency; I have seen many a drinker fall into a bottle after losing a competition for attention, and so long as a true drinker is conscious, their empty glass is always one in want of filling. My objection is to the idiocy that follows.

“A drunken stupor” is probably the phrase most often associated with the condition of those who over-imbibe, but depictions in media of the degree to which drunkards lose their individual wits whilst wasted are grossly exaggerated. Erica Blandelli, case in point, carries on a conversation with a suspended mask sitting atop a table despite the projected voice coming from behind her. No matter how drunk a person may be, their ears will effectively triangulate the origin of sounds. Depending on the degree of intoxication, however, eyesight’s whacked horizontal/vertical hold could cause confusion once the audio is taken into account. But in this scene, Erica sits perfectly still, insusceptible to the wobbles nominally associated with alcohol poisoning, and insists the inanimate object before her is the origin of the voice actually speaking to her. In other words, the setup is completely wrong.

Unapologetic, the anime tries to convince viewers of this idiocy by employing different cameras dedicated to each of the speaking parties … and succeeds. One camera focuses solely on Erica while she speaks, and another camera is trained on Kusanagi as he replies. Switching between cameras adeptly represents an established conversation. But when one camera pulls back and reveals the staging, comedy ensues. At least it should according to theory. (Police Squad! used the same technique all the time and to great comedic effect for its trick framing). Instead, because of the gratuitous follow through, the audience will be taken aback not by how silly Erica is being but by how moronic the situation is. (This, I believe, is supposed to be offset by the enthusiastic manner in which Erica energetically bounces in her chair like a child mid-tantrum.)

Erica is so adamant in accusing the inanimate figure before her, which she thinks is Kusanagi, of not replying to her that she actually flicks the metal mask , injures her finger, and STILL carries on a vehement interrogation. At the very least, a real drunk would recoil from the pain and reassess. Erica, however, just keeps going at it. It’s a chuckle's worth of a gag negated by the ignorance of basic human senses. It's like someone who's never gotten drunk or been amidst drunks decided to write a drunk gag. Still, there is legitimate humor here.

Kusanagi’s discontented calls of “Ericaaaaaaaaaa,” aimed at snapping her back to reality, go unheeded and instead attract another drunken reveler: the maid! Flopped back and to the side from futility, Kusanagi’s capitulated cabeza unwittingly directs his repeated addresses to the third party, but she's so blasted that she mistakes Kusanagi’s calls as directed towards her and makes fun of him for confusing her with her mistress. It's a silly gag, but it's the most believable thing in the entire scenario. And after the disappointment of the previous joke's failure, the maid's line, with its delivery and parallel but more apt execution, is the scene's only redeeming value.

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Con Report: ConnectiCon 2015

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ConnectiCon falls between AnimeNEXT and Otakon. However, this “massively multi-genre pop culture convention” is anything but filler. To start, the main draw to most would be the insanely long list of guests: actors (voice, stage, TV, and film); authors and illustrators from the wide worlds of print and Web; and game designers/publishers. This is second only to the con’s immediate draw: games (electronic, tabletop, and otherwise). Seriously, you could spend the entirety of the con in the game room and never regret doing so. My personal draw, however, would be the panel offering put together in part under the management of GeekNights’ Rym and Scott.

Attendance growth was moderate; 11,351 paid attendees (12,645 warm bodies) traversed the floors of the Connecticut Convention Center in downtown Hartford. This 700+ person increase from last year was hardly noticeable however. In fact, I kept wondering where all the people were throughout Friday and early Saturday! By midday Saturday, however, the con was officially in full swing, and the halls were full to bursting come Saturday night.

Despite the range and notoriety of guests, I forewent the Press Junket this year and did not request any interviews. Actors do not generally interest me, so I have a hard time coming up with questions. (George Takei and Nichelle Nichols, having history and social relevance, are the notable exceptions.) Attending last year reaped some stories (and even a song) that were fun to listen to but ultimately forgettable and made me miss early morning panels that most likely would’ve proven more memorable. Still, the Junket is something special for those who wish to take advantage of it, and many thanks are due to ConnectiCon’s Director of Press, Leo Marinak, for putting it together.

Other programming I largely ignored for some choice panels was the usual cavalcade of cosplay events, including a dating game, a chess match, a masquerade, a death match, and a The Doctor roast; a live art competition; Nerd Prom; and FMV (Fan-Made Video) contests. Nightlife extended the con with such events as the River Front Festival (a music, food, and fireworks extravaganza) and Con-Vivial Fest 2015 (a geek-friendly bar crawl of sorts), but the usually array of eateries and the camaraderie invited thereby cemented my tracks after programming proper ended.

Organization seemed more on-point than usual, which speaks volumes given how organized CTCon usually is. As overheard from multiple attendees, the addition of freestanding directories on the main panel floor were greatly appreciated. These especially came in handy because all the panels rooms had names instead of their numbers from last year. As a complement, the perfect-bound “souvenir guide book” (which looks and feels amazing by the way) featured hallway- and day-specific, left- and right-page-separated panel tables which made navigation and panel hopping plotting a breeze.

Although I praised the Bemani Invasion arcade in the 2014 CTCon report, it was, as noted, cause for slight congestion. This year, the intermediate landing upon which said arcade was situated was free aside from a few couches and chairs for general lounging. To be honest, I missed the noise and the action, but the calm afforded in the in-between from con floor to panel floor was a welcomed transition in terms of mindset.

As a panelist, I’ve some words. A mild complaint regarding tech support, even if my dude did look like a clone of actor Adam Scott, was that information was delivered piecemeal: first the unreliability of the power strip, then the projector adjustments, and then the hidden sound board — all of which made me dash away and return to the stage multiple times. Finding help was another issue; each time I encountered a problem, staff seemed nowhere to be seen. Luckily, there was enough setup time in-between panels that everything was resolved without issue before the panel proper began.

On a programming note, I’ll conclude with the fact that ConnectiCon streamed some of its panels/events this year. I wish more cons would do this, especially for notable guests but also for select panels. It’s a great chance for people who weren’t able to actually make it to the con to see what they’re missing so that they might be more likely to make the trek next year.

All that’s left to touch upon is the archaic gimme gimme of the combined Vendors/Artists’ Colony area. I overheard many complaints about a diversity of selection, but I didn’t see much difference from last year. The Artists’ Colony was, as it always is, an exhibit of button, craftwork, and prints, while vendors sold the same goods representative of the con’s diverse geek focus as they always have.

ConnectiCon’s got something for everyone, and it’s got it all weekend long. The multi-genre nature of the programming and guests prevents burnout especially when attended between certain culture-specific cons, and the tracks cultivated by dedicated and passionate staff ensure a quality experience each and every year.

ConnectiCon 2015

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